John May Becton, Presbyterian minister and teacher, was born in Craven County, North Carolina, on January 9, 1806, to Frederick Edwin and Fannie (May) Becton. Soon after John's birth, the Bectons sold their farm and moved to Rutherford County, Tennessee, where the boy attended Pebble Hill Academy. John married Eleanor Sharp on January 18, 1827. They lived on their farm in Rutherford County, Tennessee, until 1831, when they sold the farm and moved to Gibson County, Tennessee. After being converting from the Baptist faith to Presbyterianism in 1832, Becton was ordained at Mount Carmel Presbyterian Church in Tennessee, in April 1840.
He arrived in San Augustine County, Texas, in the fall of that year, and his family came in 1841. Becton became pastor of the Goodlaw Schoolhouse Congregation, which he moved to San Augustine. There he became a schoolteacher. On February 11, 1843, he met with Marcus A. Montrose and Phanuel W. Warriner in the San Augustine Presbyterian Church to organize the Presbytery of Eastern Texas, which was absorbed into the Presbytery of the Brazos shortly thereafter and became the establishing source of support for San Augustine University. The men obtained a subscription of 4,500 acres, and during the second term of the university Becton served as head teacher of the Introductory Department. In addition to his ministry and teaching, he also organized a chapter of the Sons of Temperance in San Augustine. Because of ill health, however, he resigned his pastorate and his teaching position in December 1843. In 1844 he was living in Nacogdoches County, Texas. Thereafter, he asked to return to missionary work and was encouraged by the church to do so. Becton organized Douglas (Emmaus) Presbyterian Church in 1844. In 1845 he also joined James H. Starr and Thomas J. Rusk to establish Nacogdoches University.
In 1845 Becton organized the Presbyterian church in Henderson and became a teacher at Rusk Academy. He also organized churches at Rusk and Larissa and reported that he was in charge of five churches and eight mission stations. He organized numerous other churches, including those at Palestine, Church Hill, Mount Bethel, and Gum Springs. In 1852 he founded Church Hill Academy in northern Rusk County, and in 1851 he, Warriner, and W. H. Singletary were appointed to organize the Presbytery of Eastern Texas. Becton died on July 14, 1853, at Danville and was buried there.
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George L. Crocket, Two Centuries in East Texas (Dallas: Southwest, 1932; facsimile reprod., 1962). William Stuart Red, A History of the Presbyterian Church in Texas (Austin: Steck, 1936).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Carl L. McFarland,
“Becton, John May,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 29, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
June 21, 2020